The International Road to China
Saturday, 1 Feb, 2020
Dhunche (2000m) - Kathmandu
Breakfast was a little chaotic. The mixed omelettes were served for the kids. Simon and I had ordered cheese omelettes with bread but were served bread with a little cheese. The owners were new and didn't know how to make cheese omelettes. They quickly learnt.
Surprisingly, we were actually ready and in the jeep at 8:30. First time ever. We had an extra passenger as Bokta had found a little puppy whilst walking through the forest yesterday. The kids had fed it some beef jerky and the puppy had accompanied Bokta to Dunche. He had even bought a lead for it. It sat at his feet in the back of the jeep, at least for a while before deciding it would rather sit on Puncha's knee and look out the window.
We had to wait for Puncha whilst he sorted some permits. We were then stuck behind a bus that went through the police checkpoint ahead of us. We waited whilst the bus was checked then had to get out with our daypacks to be checked. Interestingly they didn't worry about our big bags that remained on the jeep.
Our driver assured us that he was very experienced. This was a good thing given the atrocious state of the road. Hard to believe this is an international road to China, though the border is currently closed due to the coronavirus This time we could see the sheer drop and the landslides where the road had just fallen away. The rain and poor visibility had shielded us from this exposure on the way to Gatlang. Given his experience we had to assume that the fuel gauge wasn't working rather than the car was running on empty.
The driver, who also owned the jeep, was originally from Dunche and the hotel we stayed in was owned by his fiance's father-in-law. His fiance was currently in Paris.
We drove through a village that sprawled along the international road and stopped at a hotel. Apparently this wasn't suitable, and we drove back through the village whilst the driver stopped and asked a group of men some questions. Finally we pulled up beside a liquor store which heated some water for us and we were able to make coffee and teas. According to the driver, the tea provided by the shopkeeper was a disaster.
We stopped again at another police checkpoint. The soldier peered into the jeep and looked at us for a while before asking if we had camera drones. Allowed to progress, we continued our descent. The terracing became more cultivated, growing mustard, potatoes and wheat. During monsoon season they grow rice and corn. We had seen corn drying on rooftops but had not had any corn as part of our meals.
The route also became more populated and urbanised and we passed many deluxe buses. It seems that all buses, except school buses, brand themselves as deluxe, though not all claim to have air-conditioning.
It was soon time for lunch, at the appropriately named Hotel Deluxe Satanchuli, our driver's choice of restaurant when travelling this route. Puncha offered us a choice of fried rice or dal baht. The fried rice was excellent and Jonno declared the chicken dal baht to be the best yet.
Back in the car we reached the intersection with the Pokhara Highway and the road was packed with trucks and buses. It was a long, slow grind up the hillsides. Overtaking involved sounding your horn and pulling to the other side of the road to pass, ducking back into traffic when a vehicle came the other way. There were some close calls but no contact was made between the mass of vehicles.
Finally we reached the outskirts of Kathmandu and our driver pulled off to a side road that took us through the outer suburbs with barely any other cars, just lots of motor bikes and pedestrians going about their daily business. The narrow roads were lined with shops and little restaurants and people gathered in groups in doorways and at the side of the road.
We dropped off Gopal and Bokta, and will see them again tomorrow as we head off on an abridged Helambu trek. We had arranged to stay another night at the Sunshine Hotel, which was full and we had been given two triple rooms at $40 USD each. At last a hot shower with some water pressure and I washed my hair for the first time since leaving Kathmandu over two weeks ago.
We have decided on a change from Nepalese food and are going to try some Vietnamese for dinner tonight.